Isolation and Mental Health

Does spending too much time alone in isolation lead to mental health decline? Let’s consider the case of the Russian composer Scriabin.

´╗┐´╗┐Scriabin’s career has a certain level of resemblance to that of Rachmaninov. Both were skilled in the art of composing and were accomplished pianists. Like Rachmaninov, his mother had been a fine pianist, and he was brought up by other female relatives in the extended family after his mother died just over a year after his birth.

Scriabin’s piano teacher in Moscow was Nikolay Zverev, who also taught Rachmaninov. Both entered the Conservatory in 1888 and both won gold medals during their time there. It was in the Conservatory that Scriabin caught the attention of the Russian millionaire publisher and philanthropist Mitrofan Belyayev. The latter began publishing Scriabin’s works and also sent him on a tour in Europe to play his own music.

In his later works Scriabin became increasingly involved in mysticism, and dabbled in Nietzschean theories, occult teachings, and philosophical ideas. He also developed the theory of synaesthesia, according to which art that appealed to all the senses would trigger a cataclysmic effect. His final work, Mysterium, was written with all these in mind. According to Scriabin, the performance was planned to last seven days in the Indian foothills of the Himalayas, beginning with bells suspended from the clouds. The universe would be shattered and humans replaced by nobler beings. To others, he seemed positively batty.

You can read more about the link between mental health and isolation from the Piano Teachers N8 website, or look up pianoWorks for Piano Lessons N8.

But it is fair to assume that spending too much time in self analysis, in what must seem like really isolationist activities such as being at the piano does push one towards mental health decline – as seen in this case. The same goes for other activities such as playing computer games, spending too much time on social media and other similar activities. In other words, get out! You may find that even when you are troubled, getting out for a walk, or just talking to people provides a temporary diversion from troubles. Or if you need to, arrange a visit with a counsellor so you can speak about your problems in strict confidence.

Work and Attire

How seriously do you take your office attire? The way you dress can show what you truly think about your job, and if this is managed well, put you in a good position.

Imagine this scenario. A plumber or junior electrician thinks “I’m in a manual job, I might just as well not bother because I’m going to get dirty anyway.” So he doesn’t bother with his appearance. But what do others think? They think someone who doesn’t care about his appearance should not be made a manager, or given responsibilities, because he will not be a good representation of the company.

Now imagine this scenario. The same worker comes to work, presentably dressed, changes into his coveralls for work, and then when he is finished, goes back into the clothes he came in, so he is not wearing the clothes he did his manual work in. People in the organisation knows he has skill to do the job, and he had demonstrated he is willing to progress, and demonstrated that he bothers.

Of course, you must just dress slightly beyond the pay grade and not too far. Don’t do your bin man job in your Armani suit. Or if you are relatively junior in the job ranks, don’t dress like you think a revolution is nigh in your organisation. Leaping too far and showing too much ambition will get you the ire of your co-workers.

A tip is to pick someone from the rank above as your style guide. If that person is a manager or middle manager and has survived in that job for a few years, then that look may have been established as been appropriate for the level. So adopt that look, which may put you in good mental stead. And if there is a position that will soon be vacated, perhaps by someone leaving for another job, or retiring, and if that person has been one that is well-liked, and your organisation is known to be conservative in its interviewing – that they are looking to appoint someone similar – model your style after them. And if the outgoing person is not well-liked, dress differently from them!

The Classical composer Hector Berlioz was well-known for writing grand music. He was also known for being a good dresser, which put him well in the public mind because they noted his dress sense. Perhaps it came with originally being a doctor. But despite a lack of music training, you may argue that being smartly-dressed enabled Berlioz to be noted by the public, and make the leap in to a career he was originally not meant to be in!

To find out more about Hector Berlioz, you can click here or follow the links to the Piano Teacher N15 website.

Dress smart – but appropriately! It communicates the correct attitude.

Victoria Line turns 50

It is inconceivable that this month the London Underground Victoria line will have been running for five decades. That’s half a century. Who would have imagined that when it was constructed in the 1960s, that it would still be going strong and going to be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year? Fifty years ago, construction was undertaken between the first section from Walthamstow Central to Highbury and Islington. As the demand for commuting increased, the later stations to Brixton were gradually added. The construction link from a Highbury to Kings Cross was an important one as it allowed interchange between different lines and transport links between various parts of the capital and definitely opened up sections of the country. You could work in the busy City and live in the quiet suburbs. And to celebrate this eventful date, let us ask, what are the treasures you can see if you decide to take the line southwards?

One little gem can be found a short walk away from the northern end point of the line. Just a stone’s throw away from Walthamstow Central station is the Vestry House Museum. The museum itself used to be a workhouse and gives you an insight into what Victorian life might have been like. The building, built in the eighteenth century, is a rich display of local history. The costume gallery is one where you could spend a lot of time in. Best of all, you can enjoy the place and what it offers because it’s free! It is certainly a good place to take the kids on a rainy day.

Tottenham Hale offers a good place to be if you happen to be a nocturnal person. If you’re only starting to wake up when the night begins, then why not bring your dancing shoes to Styx? It has a good music scene, and has developed reputation for being a venue with edgy music. No one can accuse it of being monotonous! It is certainly not boring and you will be entertained! Head there via Tottenham Hale for a guaranteed good night out there. They run different club nights and also have alternative theatre shows, all nicely complemented with possibly the tastiest pizza on the whole blue line.
A few stops further down the line from Tottenham Hale will take you to Finsbury Park. To previous generations Finsbury Park was formerly known as Brownswood Park, when it used to come under different governance. When the weather is good, the park is a glorious place to head for and to bring the kids to, for the reason that are many playgrounds for them to enjoy playing at, and even a water fountain.

You might consider yourself fortunate if you live around the Finsbury Park area – after all, it is one of the established places with good transport links. You get the Piccadilly and Victoria line, National Rail services and if you need the London Overground you can get it at the next stop of Highbury and Islington. Around Finsbury Park, there are places to eat, gyms, and other places for artistic and health development. Finsbury Park had established itself as a sort of arts hub. If you are looking to start music lessons like learning the piano, you might want to get in touch with a Finsbury Park or Hornsey piano teacher. Playing the piano can offer you enjoyment and you learn skills that last your lifetime!

Managing the effects of social media

Could the theory about your choice of social media revealing your age and demographic hold any water? Some people have suggested that it is easy to make any initial assumptions about the target market merely by examining the social media platform used by social media users. While this could be an unproven generalisation, with clear examples that do not fit the mould, we can often assume that the users of Facebook are slightly older, and the Instagram users are of a younger generation. (There will of course be older Instagram users of course, and vice versa, younger Facebook users.)
Your preferred social media platform may not also be a matter of age, but your preferred medium of communication. For example, if you prefer writing short posts, you may opt for Twitter. If you prefer posting images, then Instagram may be your chosen platform. Whatever your choice of social media platform, there is no denying that social media offers possibilities of side income. If you have an original product to sell, you may find buyers among your followers. For example, popular singers have thousands of fans that but their records. If you have no original product to push, you can earn commission by affiliate marketing, where you promote a product and get a percentage of sales. You can also be a social media influencer, where you don’t actively push a product. Many influencers simply project an image that followers try to emulate and induce them to purchase a product. Think models, make up artists and the like.

Social media may be beneficial in some ways, but keeping up with lots of followers can be quite demanding. If you reply to your early fans individually at the outset, you may find it more difficult as your numbers of followers grow, and feeling the need to continue that level of communication but not having the time to do so can exert a toll on your mental health. Imagine the boxer Rocky Balboa – had he had legions of fans on Facebook (of course, what else), it would have interfered with his training, and perhaps some unkind comment might have affected his progress. (As an aside, you can find out about the music in Rocky from the Piano Teacher N8 blog.)
If Rocky had used social media, he might have relied on a media team to manage his account so he could focus on his training. So while social media is useful, be mindful of its effects on you!

Uneasy about something? Don’t keep it bottled up

Should you take a person’s word at face value? If a person has promised something verbally, and later seemingly reneges on the promise, what sort of ways can you go about to address the situation?

This is the situation facing an author in Canada. Shubnum Khan, the person in question, had signed up for a photo shoot as part of what had been billed as a 100 Photos Shoot. She went to it, signed a disclaimer, and then had a free professional image for a photo shoot given to her, on the condition that the photographer could use her image as part of an art project. She recalls hearing the words art project being used for the purpose of this shoot.

Yet years later she would be shocked to find her image used for a variety of purposes. These include an advertisement for immigration, dermatological cream, website services such as child minding, among others. Did she agree for her image to be used this way? No, but the contract she had signed had essentially made her give away the rights to that image, and she would have no further control about how it was used.

There is a certain danger in agreeing for your image to be used in a way you do not agree with. Imagine if you had your photograph taken, and then had it used as a picture for a cause you did not agree with. What recourse would you have in addressing the situation? There is the threat of litigation you can bring to the offender, but unfortunately, the cost for most individuals would likely outweigh the benefit, and most people would probably leave well alone, unless they were public individuals whose reputation might be harmed – and if they had enough money to sue.

Perhaps a lesson to take away might have been at the outset – get things down in writing, so that is some recourse for action. And if you are uncomfortable with anything, don’t just go along with it. It might have serious repercussions for the future if you don’t speak up.

Taking an example from the world of film, when what you see doesn’t connect with what you hear, there is a sense of unease because something doesn’t match. (You can read more about this from the Piano Teachers N15 blog. If you feel the same sort of unease in social situations, don’t mask it!

Meaning brings information to life

Brexit. Are we in or out? Should we be in or out? It is likely when you put the question to teenagers, many of them will be of the opinion, “Who cares? Why I should care?”

It is a sad state of things that many grow up to be ambivalent about the things that should matter most. Now I don’t mean to say Brexit is most important, but the awareness of how it should be, and its relevance on one’s life, is unfortunately not the thing thought in schools.

Schools disseminate information. But perhaps on the school curriculum, more focus should be placed on the context in which it takes place in.

What do I mean? Imagine this – students learn about history and the World Wars, but the scale of this is hard to internalise from a textbook. But take them on a school trip to Flanders, see the rows of poppies laid out, and you get an idea of the sacrifices that people paid with their lives.

Away from the classroom, away from the pure dissemination of information, the things they learn have more relevance.

One can say the same of physics. Rather than trying to teach about moments through a point, for example, a teacher can ask students to balance a tray of different objects with a finger. Where is the place they are going to put their finger? It depends on the varying weights of the objects, and their mass and their weight from the point. But rather than teaching these concepts purely from a textbook, information takes on more relevance and meaning if it is seen to be part of everyday life.

We can do the same with finance. Instead of discussing Brexit and what it means in terms of jobs and business agreements, give students a small sum of money with the task of increasing it. They can trade with other groups of students, or not. But they have to increase the sum of money they have, and not just hold on to it, as it loses value. In the interaction of these forms of games, students have an idea of whether Brexit matters – not from the textbook.

In the arts, learning piano music is sometimes viewed as the depressing of piano keys in the rhythm and speed indicated of the sheet, with fingers assigned to the keys. A piano teacher in N8 once mentioned to me how a parent viewed piano playing as mere muscle memory, dependent on repetition. But this only breeds the idea that the approach to the music is merely information to be assessed and acted on. For the piano player, greater meaning can be achieved by understanding the compositional process, the background and motivation of the composer, and by experimenting around with the music – to change its expression – to see the effects.

The problems that teachers have is in making the information relevant. But they are tasked with teaching the information first, and ensuring it is kept in the minds of students. What is necessary is more a reduction in content knowledge, so teachers can bring the information to life, and students can learn and retain.

How has this impacted me as a counsellor? In explaining choices and courses of action to my clients, I don’t just tell them what they do, but why they should do it and how it will it make them feel. In short it is not just about purely the information, but the meaning behind it. When the recommended courses of action have more relevance, the counselling suggestions are more likely to be adhered to.

Notice: Professional Courtesy

Switching jobs is all part and parcel of life. Very few people remain in the one job for their entire career. While job hopping may have once been viewed as displaying a lack of loyalty, staying in one job is seen as being stagnant, lacking in exploration, and being narrow-minded. Most employers now realise that interviewees will have had past jobs before, and that need not necessarily count against them, unless they have made a career of not staying long in their old jobs. Switching jobs is a good thing to do; it gives you a wealth of experience, different working environments and allows you to build up skills which will eventually lead you to landing that one key job.

But when you switch jobs, often you have to give what is a notice period. This is the time frame you allow your employer – the current one – to find a replacement for you. Depending on how important your job is, you may have a notice period of a month, two months or even half a year. There are some jobs whose notice period is a year! Respecting the notice period is a sign of professionalism. If you merely changed jobs without notice, you’d be dropping your employers into a situation where they are rushed to find a replacement for you under time pressures. And it demonstrates also that you have not properly handed over to your successor.

But what are the procedures when you are in your current job and thinking over moving on? Sometimes it would be polite to inform your current employer, because they may wish to retain your services and might move you to a new department for a change or increase your wages. But it is difficult because you run the risk of being viewed negatively if they decide you can interview for another position, but in the interim you are reduced of responsibility gradually until your existence at the company seems futile. Sometimes it is better to interview first, get a secure job lined up, then serve notice.

But what happens if you secure a new job, fail to inform your existing employer and respect the notice period, AND your old boss finds out from your new one?

This is the position the Spanish national football team manager found himself in. Julen Lopetegui was named Real Madrid manager while contracted to be the national team manager, and the announcement two days before the World Cup begins was not taken well by the latter, partly because he was still contracted to them, they had no part in the discussions, and the discovery was broken to them only five minutes before the media knew.

You cannot fault Lopetegui’s desire to be manager of a great football team. Madrid are in the news all the time. The Spanish team only play once every two years and in friendly matches. This would be a career step up for him, and from the unsatisfactory position of being a manager who sees a group of random players every now and then.

You might have surmised that Lopetegui was not entirely satisfied with his current job. What can you do if you found yourself in a similar position? The classical music composer Joseph Haydn renegotiated his contract with the court of Esterhazy to get more royalties. Modern day musicians have to be more creative musically in their work, or create more music opportunities within their current work both for financial and aesthetic pleasure. You may also find it possible to diversify your work so that you are using the content knowledge you have but in different areas. Taking another example from classical music, the composer Muzio Clementi became involved in various music fields as a composer, musician, publisher and conductor, to name just a few.

Lopetegui could have combined his national team career with a bit of punditry, youth coaching and other sidelines.

He currently has a lot of time for that. He was sacked.

Does technology exacerbate mental health decline?

According to news reports, media mogul Simon Cowell has ditched his phone for over ten months, and has been quoted to say the withdrawal from technology has been good for his mental health.

He says he was irritated with how often he was using his phone, and ever since he ditched it, he was more aware and paid more attention to the world and people around him.

“It’s a strange experience,” but he “is more aware of the things around me, and happier for it.”

Cowell is not alone. More than half of phone users check it within 15 minutes of waking up, and many believe that our partners use the phone too much too.

Being swarmed with technology creates many problems.

Technology is a good thing, but we haven’t quite learned to manage it yet. Unfortunately, workplace systems and processes demand that we embrace it, rather than ditch it.

It is easier for employers to demand their employees remain at their beck and call, and get them to do more work out of office hours by saying “I emailed you the documents over the weekend” and then expecting things have been dealt with, or demanding their response with a text message.

You can choose to filter out technology, but unfortunately many of us don’t have this choice, unless we work for ourselves, or – like Cowell – have executive assistants to deal with such matters on our behalf. We don’t want it intruding, but we can’t exactly do without it completely, and it is in navigating the disconnect that proves difficult.

Technology promotes a disconnect in many ways too. Musicians who rely on technology face having to alter their art form because the audience expectations have changed. Remember when being a music DJ meant spinning decks and records? Now it is about clicking touchscreens and select pre-edited tracks. Musician Bob Dylan faced accusations from the folk community when his music became electric with amplified guitars.

Disconnect is fun, don’t get me wrong. Listen to classical music crossed with disco. Or metal music is enjoyed because the dark lyrics are sung to major keys. But when you have a disconnect in daily life that widens each day, managing that contradiction is one of the things you need to do, or it will lead to a decline of your mental health.

Google or Counselling?

Seth Stephenson-Davidowitz is a data scientist, which – apart from the fact that it is viewed as a modern, tech-y, somewhat sexy job – means he uses data to draw insights. A major part of his work uses Google searches as a data set, because he believes that people are less inclined to tell the truth when presented with a face to face interviewer or a survey, simply because of how it reflects on them. In other words, traditional methods of information gathering are not necessarily trustworthy, from a deeper truth point of view. However, he believes that because there is a higher perception of anonymity afforded a computer user who goes on Google to search for answers to thoughts, the data trends are more accurate.

There is some truth in that belief, but in counselling once you have established that relationship of trust with a counsellor, it is easier to unravel the tangle of thoughts in your head, to work through the things that trouble you, instead of looking to Google for answers – the latter would be akin to reading an online self-help book!

One of Stephenson-Davidowitz’s research on data trends has focused on depression. According to data searches, August 11 and Christmas Day are the happiest days of the year – there are less searches for the word depression, while depression is highest in April, the month called the “cruelest month” by poet T S Eliot. Google data also suggests that climate matters a great deal. But also highlights that money is the perhaps a strong underlying cause – searches for depression are less in areas which a large percentage of people are college-educated, which – for those of us in the UK – means they have degrees, and are not to be confused with sixth-form college.

Using such data to gather insights is useful, but we should be careful about being too reliant. The data used in this research also suggested that areas with higher Hispanic-Americans were less depressed, but that could have been because Hispanic-Americans might not have typed “depression” into Google, but used other phrases as well, some of which may have been in other languages. And while depression is an anchoring word, people might look up “suicide”, “how to kill myself”, or “end my life” as other indicators of depression.

When you are depressed, it is a good idea to speak with someone else, because not only would that help unravel the thoughts in your mind, the speaking is effortful, and helps you burn off unwanted stressful energy within you and dissipate it. Of course, the listener – the person you are speaking to – should listen, and be trained to withhold comment, otherwise helpful “suggestions” only increase the pressures on you and the things you have to do and cause more mental triggers!

If you are not yet comfortable speaking with someone, try taking up a skill to take you out of the spiral of negative thoughts. Try a candle-making course, something arty, that takes you out to meet people. But if that still is too far of a social stretch at the moment, then something like learning the piano might be a useful skill. Learning the piano activates different parts of the brain which relieves the pressure on the cortex and the word-processing part of the brain, and as you get lost in the music and melodies, it will momentarily take you out of your stressful world and you give you some form of mental escape – instead of being lost in the maze of Google searches without a way out!

Music and Silence are both underpinned by the same thing

What does the fact that many people are listening to headphones nowadays tell us?

Does it tell us the music industry is growing? Well, it is, but that is not the main thing.

Does it tell us music plays an important part in everyone’s life? Yes, it does, but only to a certain extent.

What it really tells us – and I might be ruffling a few feathers here – is that we don’t really want to know.

We don’t really want to know what goes on outside our immediate world.

We are not capable of helping those we see in need, such as the homeless under railway stations. We don’t really want to know we can’t help them, or we don’t want to invest the necessary time to address a social issue.

So we look down on the floor as we past them, or pretend to be scrolling our phones. And we plug in headphones so we have an excuse to say we didn’t hear their pleas of “Spare some change please…”

We travel on public transport. On a train or a bus, someone plays music loudly, talks loudly, or behaves in an anti-social manner. It used to be that we could busy ourselves in a book and pretend not to hear. But the plugging of ourselves into a world of music tells us we don’t need to bother trying to get angry, trying to waste time convincing them of their idiocy. We can just disconnect there and then.

A pair of headphones is the biggest tool in your arsenal.

It allows you to switch off from the world around you. Some of it might be in response to things you disagree with but cannot change. But disconnecting may be a way of finding your own space in a crazy world.

Some of us may listen to music with loud beats and driving rhythms. It may not necessarily be music that is modern, it may be Romantic piano music or loud choral music by Handel. We may blast out music loudly, or choose to plug headphones in as a barrier. Ultimately, it is our silence that speaks most.

Watching someone on our daily commute listen to music tells us something. It tells us human beings are trying to disconnect further and further from the fabric of society.

Therein lies a time bomb.